Yearly in-state games like Iowa-UNI fun while they lasted

Sad, but true

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April 3, 2014 | 8:13 am

So the annual men’s basketball games Iowa and Iowa State play against Northern Iowa and Drake are going the way of dinosaurs, dodos, and the Indianapolis Colts.

What now seems nearly certain to happen is an annual doubleheader in Des Moines’ Wells Fargo Arena, pitting Iowa against UNI or Drake and Iowa State against the other. Iowa and Iowa State will surely continue to play each other once a season.

The predictable rant would be to complain about how unfair it is for the Hawkeyes and Cyclones to stop playing the Panthers and Bulldogs every year, rotating sites each season. The games are of interest in the state, they help the two smaller programs, and so forth.

I’m behind that, but it’s a lost cause. It’s sad those series will be taken out of campus arenas and played just every other year. It’s definitely not a great thing for UNI or Drake to lose those home gates and the interest that comes with those games.

But the reality is, we were probably lucky to have those continuous series as long as we did. Iowa has played UNI every season since 1988, home and away. You just know none of the four Hawkeye coaches in that time were especially thrilled about it. Especially since all four lost in Cedar Falls at one time or another.

However, I can’t argue too strenuously with the Iowa/ISU points of view. With the 18-game league schedules the Big Ten and Big 12 play, you hamstring yourself from playing very many other nonconference games of interest if you’re locked into three in-state games a year, especially since you’re playing one and sometimes two on the road.

Give Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery credit for his candor on this subject.

“What that does (playing Drake and UNI yearly) limits whatever scheduling opportunities that you have,” McCaffery said in a story The Gazette’s Scott Dochterman wrote. “Then I think what you have to do is you have to think about, ‘All right, we’ve got to have some flexibility because in any given year you might want to take on Kansas or Duke or North Carolina.’ You might have an opportunity to have a TV game like that. If you don’t have flexibility in your schedule, you can’t play games.”

People will ask why you simply can’t cut into the supply of home games against lackluster opponents to do that. This season, Iowa and ISU have several such games.

But most big programs have those to get as many home gates as they can, and that usually means playing teams that don’t require return dates. Those are your Chicago States, your Mississippi Valley States, et al.

McCaffery was forthright when he talked about scheduling when he has a team like he has this season.

“You might have a team that’s not as good,” he said. “You might want to downgrade your schedule. If you graduate everybody — I’ve had teams before that graduated 6,660 points.

“Obviously for me, when I have a good team, I want to take everybody on. I want to be on television. I think it’s our responsibility to do that. I think you have to look at the big picture moving forward and I think that’s what everybody’s doing.”

That doesn’t play so well at UNI, obviously. But the Panthers haven't relied on the kindness of outsiders to reach five NCAA tournaments since 2004, while Iowa and Iowa State have a combined three such appearances in that time.

The following statement may not be true for too much longer, but the Panthers help pull up their state rivals’ strength-of-schedule more than vice versa.

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